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Observations placeholder

Dr Elmer Green – A description of how Biofeedback works in healing involving the autonomic nervous system



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Beyond Biofeedback – Drs Elmer and Alyce Green

Feedback of signals is used in every self-guided mechanism, without exception. For instance, consider a heat-seeking missile designed to chase and shoot down an aircraft with heat-emitting engines. The missile contains a scanning device that examines the field of view covered by its optical system and automatically measures the angular deviation between its heading and a direct course to the "hot spot" in the sky (the aircraft).

The angular deviation is converted to an electrical signal, amplified, and fed to motors which automatically change the steering vanes, thus moving the "hot spot" toward the center of the optical field of view. When the missile is moving directly toward the aircraft, the "hot spot" is in the center of the scanning system, and whenever the missile deviates from that direct line a self-regulating correction is made, returning the "hot spot" toward center.

Cycles of scanning, feedback, and correction continue until the missile reaches the vicinity of its target and a proximity fuse detonates the explosive charge.

Consider other examples. A furnace and its thermostat represent a complete, self-contained, self-regulated system of temperature control Every self-regulating, automatic machine has a feedback loop by means of which the machine's behavior is continuously fed back to a control mechanism, which then "tells" the machine what to do next. In learning to drive a car, a person has continuous visual feedback. If the car heads for a ditch, this error is detected visually, and feedback of this information results in changes in the muscular system of the driver which affect the steering wheel so that the course is corrected. Learning to play a pinball machine involves three kinds of feedback: sight, sound, and vibration. Without vision and sound it is very difficult; without vision, sound, and vibration, it is impossible. Without feedback, nothing can be learned.

Gardner was suggesting a way of learning to control unconscious muscle tension anywhere in the body. The solution was to detect a person's tension, then feed this biological information back to the person, thus making him conscious of it. It is necessary to become aware of something before you can change it, control it. This was so obvious that I was surprised that I had overlooked it in thinking about voluntary control of those unconscious body functions governed by the autonomic nervous system.

Medical textbooks said that voluntary control of the autonomic nervous system was impossible, but I knew of no reason why control could not be established by increasing self-awareness through feedback.

In fact, every yogi I had ever heard of was able to control his own autonomic nervous system to some degree. Moreover, if the data from Autogenic Training demonstrating autonomic control were reliable, a useful psychological method for developing conscious autonomic self-regulation already existed, and feedback should make Autogenic Training much faster.

In order to develop voluntary control of behavior, whether it be slowing the heart or playing a piccolo, it is necessary to become conscious of (or focus consciousness on) the present behavior and at the same time visualize (imagine) the desired behavior. The difference between the two, between the fact and the visualization, corresponds with the angular deviation detected by a heat-seeking guided missile-between the "hot spot" in the sky and the direction of the missile. The guided missile is not conscious, of course, but its designers were conscious when they figured out how to make it work. In the same way, we must be conscious when we voluntarily learn any skill. Consciousness is necessary when we are learning to use deviations between performance and goal in order to change our behavior.

After a body learns a skill, it can often perform as unconsciously as a guided missile (as when driving a car automatically while involved in a serious discussion). While designing or modifying behavior, however, consciousness is needed, and in order to become conscious of deviations between the facts of behavior and the visualization of behavior, we need conscious feedback.

The source of the experience

Green, Dr Elmer and Alyce

Concepts, symbols and science items


Autonomic system


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps